Should the general public be wearing face masks as a result of Coronavirus? Surgeon General Jerome Adams is saying previous advice for the public to not to wear face masks is now being revisited. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been asked to look at whether people should start wearing masks when they leave their homes.
The reason given for the change is the significant number of people who have the disease but no symptoms. Even though they don’t feel sick, they can still spread the disease. Wearing a mask may help prevent those who are unaware they’re infected with COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.
In an April 1 press conference with California Governor Gavin Newsom, face coverings were discussed by Sonia Angell, MD, MPH, the director of the California Department of Public Health, who stated that masks may decrease amounts of infectious particles being dispersed in the air, but don’t replace the need for physical distancing. There’s also the danger they may give wearers a false sense of immunity. Those wearing face coverings can still transport germs and infect themselves by touching the mask or their eyes.
When concern about COVID-19 started to grow weeks ago, there was a rush on face masks as people believed wearing a mask would prevent them from getting Coronavirus. Authorities repeatedly urged people not to buy medical-grade face masks. Their concern was that there would not be enough of the N-95 masks, which block 95% of all airborne particles, for health care providers on the front lines of the coronavirus war. That concern has become a reality.
Usual infection control standards call for a mask to be discarded after it is used for an interaction with one infected patient. Currently, many health care workers are being asked to use one mask for their entire shift, despite the fact they come in contact with many infected patients.
Adams has stated that advice for the general public not to wear masks was based on the information they had at the time. The CDC website advises wearing a mask if you’re sick or caring for someone who is ill. To add to the confusion, the World Health Organization (WHO) has not changed its recommendation for seemingly healthy people not to wear masks unless they’re caring for a person who has the infection.
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies program, was quoted by CNN as saying, “There is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any potential benefit. In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest the opposite in the misuse of wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly.”
Ryan also said, “There also is the issue that we have a massive global shortage [of face masks]. Right now the people most at risk from this virus are frontline health workers who are exposed to the virus every second of every day. The thought of them not having masks is horrific.”
To ensure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is available where it’s needed most by health care workers, there has been talk of advising people to use homemade masks. However, there’s concern that wearing a mask could result in people touching their faces to adjust the mask.
Furthermore, if a mask has been worn by an individual who has the virus and disposed of improperly, that could increase the spread of the disease. WHO recommends “discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.”
The Surgeon General emphasized even if the recommendation to wear masks changes, that doesn’t negate the need for people to continue to social distance.
Face Masks Coronavirus: Sources
CDC – Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19): How to Protect Yourself
CNN – WHO stands by recommendation to not wear masks if you are not sick or not caring for someone who is sick
WHO – Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: When and how to use masks